Living with an abusive and controlling partner can feel like living in a cult—except lonelier. Victims' ** own viewpoints, desires, and opinions may fade as they are overwhelmed by the abusers'. Over time, they may lose a sense that they even have a right to their own perspectives. This is called perspecticide—the abuse-related incapacity to know what you know (Stark, 2007). Perspecticide is often part of a strategy of coercive control that may include manipulation, stalking, and physical abuse:
Abusers make their partners narrow their worlds. Once isolated, it is easy to lose one's sense of self.
Abusers insist on controlling minute aspects of their partners' lives. Over time, victims internalize the rules and forget what life was like when they were freer to make their own choices.
Abusers make their partners feel badly about themselves. Because they are isolated, people victimized by perspecticide begin to believe the negative descriptions of themselves and lose self-esteem.
Setting the terms of life in a couple.
Abusive partners create the expectations. The abuser demands certain acts as proof of love and over time, the person being victimized gives in.
People subjected to perspecticide often blame themselves, as they feel despairing and disoriented. It can be hard for them to figure out exactly what’s wrong. Controlling partners serve as a filter for the outside world, gradually forcing their victims to lose the support of family, friends, and coworkers. Isolated and controlled in this way, victims lose self-esteem and have trouble remembering what they once thought, felt, and believed.
** If you're not comfortable with the terms "victim" and "abuser," feel free to substitute words that you prefer.
*** All names have been changed.
For more information on how to recognize perspecticide and reclaim your sense of self after a controlling relationship, please check out Invisible Chains: Overcoming Coercive Control in Your Intimate Relationship.